Friday, 7 January 2011

The Ashes

Is it that we are reverting to type, we privately-educated johnnies, now we are rejecting football as vulgar beyond redemption? Even rugby is slipping inexorably down towards the common. This leaves cricket as the home of the yeoman, that figure to which we all aspire: decent, upright, able to hold his beer, a man who works as seriously as he plays. I think actually the truth is that what we like is the idea of The Team, the Band of Brothers, the Company. There has not been this sense surrounding an English football team since the Bobby Robson days (whatever you think of Gary Lineker, that look he gave the manager concerning Gazza after the booking in the semi-final indicated that there was concern for one another, at the very least).

It is teams (and teams are always good teams) that win, and England have not been winning their rugby matches. The possibly false dawn of the Australia match did start people muttering about a new era. And of course all you England fans very badly want Johnson to do well because he is the very model of the team man, and lead a victorious England side.

The spoilt surliness of footballers and the absence of talent in rugby players do not make for good teams. Of course, initial failure may actually contribute to eventual success, and that is what all of us continually hope for in rugby, but triumph in the end rests upon good spirit and great talent. Great teams are made up of great players.

Although Australia were weak, the manner of their defeat (which was an utter thrashing - the only time, ever, that an England team has won three matches in an overseas series by more than an innings) suggested the very high quality of their opposition. Alastair Cook has become a great player. It is ungainsayable. Trott is quite obviously there for the duration, Pietersen still sprinkles the magic, Collingwood and Prior are full yeomen, Bell the elegant and now ruthless swot, Tremlett has exactly the right kind of name (and perhaps mien) for an England fast bowler, Jimmy Anderson has a swagger now (and scans beautifully), and Swann is a chucklesome amalgam of them all. Above all, Strauss now has the air of a man who knows exactly what his job entails and how to do it. And following Atherton's interview with Flowers, Nasser Hussain voiced pretty much exactly what I had thought: that when Flowers speaks, you listen. He went on to say that Flowers was both modern and "old school" and that he treats the members of the team as "men" (what an old-fashioned notion, and what a comforting and good one, that sounds).

As the series has gone on I have become more and more fascinated by it. It seems to me that this is indeed a great team, a greater team than Vaughan's 2005 heroes because more ruthless, harder edged while at the same time demonstrating fairly obviously a sense that they know they are all tremendously fortunate to be doing the best job in the world.

Do the sprinkler! And a tear for the last of Collingwood, gawd bless him.

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